BitDepth#924 - February 18

Copyright issues arise again during Carnival 2014 with no apparent solutions or common sense evaluations of the actual law in sight.
Carnival copyright redux
This member of The Original Whipmasters cracks a whip in a demonstration at the Rudranath Capildeo Learning Resource Center. Time to straighten Carnival out?
Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

It shouldn't be surprising, given the NCC’s failure to hold a public consultation on the copyright issues that arose in 2013, to find the whole ugly mess bubbling up again.
Photographers who went to the NCC to seek accreditation for the 2014 edition of the event found no reductions in the fee and a new and shocking issue to deal with.

On February 11, photographers seeking a pass to cover Carnival were told that if they checked the online option on the form, it would not be approved.
The NCBA, they were told, had sold the right to publish online to a single unnamed entity.

Read Narend Sooknarine’s account of that meeting
That story changed within 24 hours to an approval for websites. When confronted with this story by the Guardian's Kalifa Clyne last week, NCBA bossman David Lopez dismissed the possibility.

Apparently, one is left to assume, bored clerical staff must have made up the whole story to add a bit of spice to a dull day. Yes that must be it, because otherwise, someone is lying.
Meanwhile, the TTCO has launched another boarding manoeuvre that seems unrelated to the rights hijack allegedly underway at the NCBA.

The collection agency has demanded backpay in the sum of $6 million on behalf of the NCDF, one of the three organisations that represent the interests of bandleaders and, it is widely rumored, masqueraders.

At the heart of all this bacchanal is the payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars for a nebulous product called "copyright fees," a uniquely T&T invention designed to satisfy Carnival stakeholders that they are getting a cut of all the nonexistent money being made by photographers and motion crews off their hard work.

There is, of course, no such fortune being made by anyone, most documenters of Carnival doing so out of love or cussedness in the face of outright hostility and barely feigned disinterest.
That this demand was met with unthinking acquiescence almost 20 years ago only cemented in the minds of mas men in particular that they were right all along.

When media managers should have stood up for the right to publish and broadcast in the public interest, a governing clause of the T&T copyright act, they abdicated that responsibility through ignorance, disinterest and laziness.

The country has never stopped paying for that act of naked greed and the weak-kneed response of publishers and broadcasters.
Serious coverage of Carnival, already sketchy, was completely abandoned in favour of magazines with cover to cover half-naked babes.

It's no surprise that the most reasonable Carnival stakeholders are Pan Trinbago and TUCO. In an environment in which coverage is fiercely taxed, they are most clearly in danger of being left out of the annual Carnival narrative.
Even more interesting is the fact that what's being done each year makes no sense in copyright terms. The denomination of copyright is the license.

While copyright is normally singular in its protection of authorship, it is in practice, several rights which can be claimed and licensed separately.
In this architecture of nuanced intangibles, something owned by someone is licensed or leased, if you prefer, to someone else in specific ways for a specific time.

In a single photograph of a masquerader performing in a band, there is the singular right of the photographer who authored the photograph, the neighbouring rights of the individual pictured to profit from or protect their distinctive likeness and the Works of Mas rights of the designer and bandleader in the costume itself.

The correct way to handle the challenges of Carnival copyright would be to create a rights clearinghouse that buyers interested in making use of Carnival's creative works could reference to pay suitable fees for projects.
What photographers buy each year through the NCC is a bligh, an implicit agreement that Carnival’s leadership won't bother them.

As a tool of copyright what's being sold is useless. Anyone wishing to do anything serious with a photo or video of Carnival must still find masqueraders to clear likenesses and designers and bandleaders to negotiate Works of Mas licences.
It is, in short, a bill of goods that's all hefty bill and no goods.

After two decades of charging a steeply escalating fee for documenting Carnival, it's going to be difficult for the festival's leadership is unlikely to be keen to embrace any new models for handling the rights they own, even in the face of an unequivocal collapse in the quality of the event's coverage.

It's arguable that the creatively arid Carnival of today is the logical result of the haphazard and senseless introduction of copyright fees late in the 20th century.
Public taste has followed media coverage. Pan has been marginalised, calypso is in a State funded coma and everyone wants to shake a befeathered bumsee in a band.

While there are other vectors that got us here, people want the Carnival that they see and what they see is soca singers performing to massive crowds and pretty girls in beaded swimsuits getting on bad.

The language of the festival has been truncated with a texter's ruthlessness.

As everything about Carnival becomes shorter and more pointed, it begins to resemble nothing less than a gladius on which we are relentlessly impaling our creative future.

An effective copyright regime for Carnival will call for work to earn the real rewards that are due, but everyone’s too busy lining up at the trough to lap up much easier money, even if it's only a thin gruel.

Mas Colloqium Talk: One. Then five to fifteen.
Video: Carnival Stakeholder Conversations
BitDepth#929: A Carnival Coda
BitDepth#927: Lessons from the Socadrome
Guardian Editorial for March 10: More transparency in Carnival
PhotoBlog: Why I have nothing to say about your Facebook Carnival gallery
BitDepth#926: Carnival's stuttering progress
Guardian Editorial for March 02: The Geography of Carnival
BitDepth#925: How I would fix Carnival
Guardian Editorial for February 26: Elitism or Entrepreneurship?
Suggestions to the NCC for accreditation improvements.
Narend Sooknarine's experience with the NCC accreditation team.
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